The German Doctor (or its Spanish title, Wakolda) is a solid slow burn. It’s also a not-so-slow slow burn. Allow me to explain.
It appears this film about a relocating Argentine family who is followed by an unknown yet concerned doctor would like to move at a more patient rate. The actors on screen are prepared to show their unease with properly drawn out weariness and filmmaker Lucía Puenzo shows he has the chops to tackle such an ominous approach.
Puenzo’s self-written screenplay has a hard time taking the plunge into a slower narrative, and instead has mystery kick the movie off involving characters we haven’t been given enough time to warm up to. The German Doctor is one of those cases where we shouldn’t sense or be acquainted with trouble until a third into the movie. In the meantime, audiences should feel a close bond to the film’s protagonists as the filmmaker gives each player their own introductory moments. Puenzo gives off the impression that he was intimidated with this task.
Because the film is on an allotted track that urges the filmmaker to punch out in under 90 minutes, it applies unintentional stiffness to scenes that are more focused on working through the material than “feeling the moment”.
I do commend Puenzo for penning convincing dialogue for his cast, and directing them in a way where they all make their roles stand out. Outside of those robotic instances, the players do a splendid job either at showing their innocence or showing a foreboding hidden agenda. Outstanding performances are delivered by young Florencia Bado as Lilith and Àlex Brendemühl as the infamous experimentalist Josef Mengele – who has since taken on a new persona.
The German Doctor is a film about trust, and how sometimes a broiling bias can taint it. Scarily, a harmfully ambitious nazi regime still exists years after Hitler has been removed – Puenzo’s central family are exposed to this over the course of the movie.
Lucía Puenzo also faces our protagonists with a conundrum of having no one to trust, but the most dangerous person in the room. The tension is high during these confrontations where a stone faced Mengele lists off instructions the family has to follow in order to stabilize health. His steps are detailed, but his intentions are vague.
The German Doctor is exceptional and rightfully unsettling, but it’s also a really good movie that’s ten developmental minutes shy of being something truly great.